This 3-year PhD project will examine landscape effects on farm ecosystem service delivery, focusing on above- and below-ground biodiversity within agri-environment schemes compared to conventional farming and the role of hedgerows in farmland carbon budgets.
Farming is an important contributor to global climate change, being a major source of carbon emissions, and a significant cause of biodiversity loss, through conversion of natural habitats to food producing landscapes. Therefore, farming has a key role to play in solving the climate and biodiversity crises through effective landscape management.
Agri-environment schemes are financial incentives provided to farmers to undertake activities that are perceived to benefit wildlife but their efficacy often remains untested. Whilst some agri-environment schemes have been shown to have net benefits for nature, their effects may be mediated by the surrounding landscape within which they are embedded.
This project will examine above- and below-ground farmland biodiversity (for example, hedgerows, invertebrates and soil organisms) relative to their surrounding landscape to determine if the efficacy of agri-environment schemes differs across landscapes. A key focus will be on the delivery of ecosystem services including the role of hedgerow management in supporting farmland biodiversity and their role in farmland carbon budgets.
This project will be allied with the Northern Ireland Countryside Survey which is a major periodic assessment of land cover and natural habitats throughout Northern Ireland with the next survey commencing in 2022 for a duration of 3 years. The successful student will collaborate with the survey that will generate detailed data at over 200 sites on land cover, land use, hedgerow composition and structure, ground flora and soil carbon and nutrient content. The concept is for the student to provide additional focused sampling of key taxa not included in the main survey for which survey data can be used as explanatory environmental factors including detailed Geographic Information System (GIS) maps of landscape composition and structure. This provides an unprecedented opportunity to generate a large dataset on farmland biodiversity to analyze with landscape characteristics to influence government policy on landscape management and agri-environment scheme measures.
Further reading: https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/northern-ireland-countryside-survey
Start Date: 4 January 2023
Duration: 3 years
How to apply: Applications must be submitted via: https://dap.qub.ac.uk/portal/user/u_login.php
NOTE: Applicants must either (a) have held a drivers license for three years prior to PhD registration or (b) have access to their own transport and mobility facilitating daily field work at various countryside locations around Northern Ireland during each of the three spring-autumn periods. This will include work on uneven farmland terrain to set and retrieve sampling equipment. Candidates should state clearly in their application how they meet this requirement.